The mass of tangled kelp along the strandline of this East Neuk beach was at least a foot deep in places, a mix of yellow-brown flattened fronds and thick tubular stalks.
At the base of each stem were intricate stubby tendrils that would have attached the seaweed to rocks just below the low tide mark. Normally these would provide tenacious grip, but such has been the ferocity of recent storms that the kelp had been plucked with ease from their holdfasts by the crashing waves and surging currents.
I was at Cambo Sands by Kingsbarns, a few miles south-east of St Andrews, and the prolific amount of washed-up kelp along the beach was testament to the sheer power of the ocean – and also the resilience of our coastal wildlife. Seaweeds such as kelp are incredibly important for a wide range of marine life, creating shelter and safe places to forage.
When snorkelling on the Scottish west coast I constantly marvel at the abundance of goldsinny, corkwing and rock cook wrasse found in these kelp forests. Juvenile coley and pollack also thrive within their thick embrace, as do colourful two-spotted gobies.
Seaweeds are algae and a vast array of species typically occurs in the intertidal area. Each type tends to be especially adapted for a particular zone on the seashore and to differing degrees of exposure to the air or inundation by the tide. It is the stuff of biology class at school; channel wrack is found on the upper part of the shore, bladder wrack in the middle zone and serrated wrack on the lower shore.
The remains of many molluscs had been washed up on this beach too – in particular surf clams, their attractive half-shells littering the sand. Ranging from cream to rusty brown in colour, they display a series of concentric lines that match the gentle semi-circular curve of the smooth leading edge of the shell. Surf clams, or trough shells as they are often known, live buried in the sand on the lower shore and poke their short siphons just above the seabed to filter food from the plankton-rich water.
An occupational hazard for these clams is having their siphons nibbled off by flatfish such as flounders and dabs. But all is not lost, for the damaged tip is able to regenerate.
In a large shallow pool on the lower edge of the shore, a few wigeon dabbled in the shallows. They are delightful little ducks that love to feed on eelgrass. Eelgrass might look a bit like seaweed but it is actually a most unusual flowering plant that can handle being submerged by seawater.
But this part of the coast looked too exposed for eelgrass and these wigeon were almost certainly feeding on something else – but what, I was unable to tell.